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  Kashmiriyat revisited
  By Ram Puniyani  
  THIS June 18, 2010, thousands of Kashmiri Pandits, including women and children, visited the temple of Mata Kheer Bhavani in Tullamula, 20 kms from Srinagar. It was the sacred day of Zyeshtha Ashthami.

Most of the Pandits were visiting the Valley after nearly 20 years, since the time they left Kashmir due to various reasons like the separatist militancy and the way the whole thing was handled by the authorities concerned.

The spiritual zest to worship Goddess Ragnya Devi, to whom this temple is dedicated, was in the air. There was a big congregation of local Muslims who greeted the visiting Pandits with cold drinks and kheer (a dessert made of milk and rice). Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and many other ministers also turned up on this emotional occasion.

The local Muslims and the ministers said that everyone in authority should work for the return of the Pandits to the Valley, as Kashmiriyat is incomplete without the Pandits, who are an integral part of Kashmir's culture and life.

Many a Pandit also promised to work towards such a goal, to overcome the divides created by the militants and political forces. The return of the Pandits to the Valley has already begun, though it is a trickle at the moment.

The Kashmir issue has been seen by Pakistan and India as an issue of 'real estate' only. Kashmir has been treated as the territory which has to be won over by any means. The Government of Pakistan has regularly used the 'Kashmir' issue to retain their hold on the political power in Kashmir, while in India, for far too long the Central Government ignored the aspirations of the local population.

In this scenario the real essence of Kashmir -- Kashmiriyat -- got undermined and the issue started being presented as a communal one and as the site of dispute between two neighboring countries.

The soul of Kashmir's culture has been a thick interaction between different religious traditions, teachings of Buddha, Vedanta, and the Sufi tradition of Islam. Kashmir was the place where Buddhism spread widely. Most of the population, except the upper caste, embraced Buddhism. With attacks on Buddhism in the 8th Century the tide turned.

Later many Sufis came to Kashmir and preached their version of Islam. The most famous of them was Nooruddin Noorani, popularly known as Nund Rishi. He was influenced by Lal Dedh, who herself was influenced by the earlier Sufis. Her mystical verses have a Shaivite form. Today both Hindus and Muslims regard her as their own. Like the great Bhakti saint, Kabir, there is a story that when she died her body turned into a heap of flowers, half of which were consigned to flames by Hindus, while the remaining half was buried by Muslims.

Nund Rishi wrote in appreciation of Lal Dedh, about her syncretic spiritual values which taught that one should not differentiate between a Hindu and a Muslim, one should realize one's own self and that's what God is. On similar lines, Nund Rishi focused on purification of soul. He bitterly criticised Mullahs and Brahmins whose focus is more on rituals than on spirituality and morality of the religions. Nund Rishi's was a sort of mass movement in Kashmir, which affected many Kashmiris and they embraced Islam as taught by him.

Such a rich heritage has come under threat, particularly during the last three decades. The vexed Kashmir issue got the communal slant due to the intrusion of Al Qaeda-type elements, once their work of driving away Russian forces from Afghanistan was over. The Kashmiri militancy assumed a different form during the 1990s and it became communalised.

Amongst many factors contributing to the worsening of the Kashmir situation, one was the worsening communal scenario in India in the 80's which added fuel to the fire of terrorism in Kashmir. Meanwhile, a communal angle was being given to the harmony prevalent between Kashmiri Pandits and the local Muslim population. Terrorists took advantage of that distortion.

Due to the local dissatisfaction of people, their feeling of alienation, the evil designs of the Pakistan Mullah-Military complex, totally backed by US imperialist goals, the militants changed their tune and Kashmiri Pandits started being targeted.

The matter worsened due to the policies of Jagmohan, who was Governor of the state. While the delegation of Kashmir people was preparing to call upon the Pandits to request them not to leave the Valley, the state Governor provided them the transport to leave the Valley. Most local leaders of the Muslim community opposed the move of sending the Pandits away from Kashmir, but encouraged by Jagmohan, the Pandits left the Valley. Essentially a problem between two neighboring countries assumed a communal color.

The condition of the Pandits, living in refugee camps has been quite pitiable. Surely, apart from Pandits many a Kashmiri Muslim also had to leave the Valley due to the twin attack from the terrorist groups and the high-handedness of the Indian military, which behaved more like an occupation army. Its heavy presence coupled with long years of stay in the Valley totally distorted the civic life in Kashmir.

The communal forces in India selectively harped on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits while the other victims of Kashmir violence were totally left out of their scheme of propaganda. The tragedy is that while communal forces kept talking of the plight of Pandits, during the six years of the BJP-led NDA rule hardly anything different was done for the victims of militancy, and the lop-sided policies of the leadership, dominated by the policies of the Central Government continued.

The present developments are a very healthy one. While army highhandedness and militancy are still visible, the local political leadership is increasingly coming out to express the Kashmiri people's aspirations. This is partly due to the change in the policies of the US. Peace seems to be slowly returning to Kashmir. This Kheer Temple congregation is a signal of the revival of the spirit of Kashmiriyat, the heart and soul of Kashmir. (Courtesy:
Photo caption: Pandits worshipping at Tullamula -- Photo by Amin War
The writer can be reached at
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